Gangs of New York: Life of Amsterdam



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Gangs Of New York For my research paper I decided to write a film analysis on The Gangs of New York. This film was released in 2002 and it follows the life of an Irish man named Amsterdam (Leonardo DeCaprio) during the late 19th century. The film is centered on an area called “five points. ” Its name comes from the intersection of 5 streets- Mulberry, Orange, Little Water, Cross and Anthony St. The center was a place where the poor lived because it always had a stench of sewage. The town square catered to violence and disease.

In the beginning of the film, there is a war between the “natives” and the “dead rabbits” that were Irish immigrants at the five points. Amsterdams’ father was the leader of the dead rabbits and the two gangs engaged in a deadly battle. The leader of the natives, “bill the butcher” ended up taking the life of Amsterdams father Priest Vallon. During the battle Bill kills Vallon and Amsterdam witnesses the violence. The natives celebrate the victory of the dead rabbits annually after that. 6 years later Amsterdam returns to New York as an adult, and the natives are still present in New York. Former members of the dead rabbits have joined the Natives. most notably Jack who is now a police officer. The natives were involved in the “Tweed ring. ” William Tweed was a corrupt politician who was in control of the police station close to 5 points. Amsterdam meets a pick pocketer named Jenny, who was raised by the butcher. One night he becomes sexually involved with her. The movie shows Irish immigrants being the victims of racism, and at the bottom of the social ladder.

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As soon as they set foot on American soil men are forced to join the draft for the Civil war. At the end rioters are lashing out against the draft. There is violence in the street, and Amsterdam and “The Butcher” have their last duel. Amsterdam ends up killing The butcher in an honorable fashion. Gangs of New York depict the political corruption, violence, and poor living conditions that plagues New York during the 1800s. Political unrest was common in early America due to the greed by many political figures in office.

Gangs of New York illustrate the acts of William Tweed, who sat in congress from (1853-1855) and had gangs working under his ring. He used the gangs to rig elections, and let Irish men work under his power to gain the Irish vote. This enabled him to stay in power. Tweed was the 3rd largest landowner in New York, and made most of his fortune from being in control of New Yorks expenditures. There was an official Police force, but they were also corrupt because the whole system in New York at the time was in disarray.

The film shows excellent examples of how the police were working for gang members, and not obeying laws themselves. As shown in the film, Officer Jack walking into a private home where Amsterdam is giving a gang citizen gold and Jack comes in and takes a few pieces of jewelry. The police were only looking to get ahead, and were not there for the well being of the citizens. Violence was common in the streets, and especially concentrated in the 5 points. Immigrants and African Americans were the target for racism and violence.

In the film it shows Natives throwing rocks at immigrants as the get off the ships. Even though all the citizens are not native to New York there is still discrimination towards people were not conceived in American. In the film, African Americans are mixed with the Europeans and are free citizens even though they were considered inferior and didn’t have the same rights as their white brothers. During the time of the New York draft riots, rioters took to the street and targeted government officials, draft offices, the wealthy, and African Americans.

In the gangs of New York it shows an African American being tied to a pole and burned alive. Living conditions were less than sanitary in New York at the time. Immigrants were housed in old barns that were not finished on the inside and mostly contained of a floor and the raw frame. Multiple families were housed crammed into these buildings. Sanitation was a large issue for these buildings, and they often lacked a sewer system. Tenants were forced to relieve themselves in the street where it was congested with foot traffic and farm animals such as pigs depicted in the film.

Gangs of New York does not put enough emphasis on the gruesome unsanitary conditions New Yorkers had to live in during them time. Gangs of New York were a great representation of the problems that Americans faced in the events leading to the civil war era. The major issues of corrupt politics, violence, and poor living conditions. Even though the film is highly focused on Bill the butcher’s wrong doings and Amsterdams way of climbing the ranks in his ring, it illustrates well the poor conditions of the 1800s.

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